UCSF Medical Center Receives Recognition for Environmentally Sustainable Practices

June 04, 2010

A medical center employee recycles and composts patient food waste.

By Deborah Fleischer

UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Children’s Hospital received a Partner for Change Award from Practice Greenhealth for integrating environmental responsibility into its operations.

Practice Greenhealth is the nation’s leading membership and networking organization for institutions in the health care community committed to sustainable, eco-friendly practices.

The award, issued on May 12, recognizes health care facilities that have developed successful pollution prevention programs and recognizes outstanding environmental innovation in health care. UCSF is the first UC campus to achieve this sustainability award. In addition to giving UCSF the award, Practice Greenhealth will plant 100 trees in Haiti in UCSF’s honor.

David Odato, chief administrative and human resources officer of UCSF Medical Center and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS), is pleased by the recognition.

“UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Children’s Hospital are committed to environmentally responsible operations for the health and safety of our patients,” he said. “I am proud of our commitment and the hard work of our staff and physicians who make UCSF Medical Center and the environment a healthy place for patients, visitors and employees.” 

UCSF is one of seven Bay Area hospitals to receive an award.

“The Environmental Excellence Awards recognize success stories,” said Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of Practice Greenhealth. “UCSF Medical Center is a successful model of how health facilities can develop and implement pollution prevention programs to greatly improve the health of their patients, staff and community.” 

Dan Henroid, medical center director of Nutrition and Food Services (NFS) and sustainability officer, was among those involved with applying for the award. “The application process was a huge undertaking,” he said. “We pulled together data across many different areas, ranging from sustainable food to waste reduction to environmentally preferable procurement, to provide an environmental snapshot of the entire institution.”

Reflecting a Dedicated Effort


“This award reflects a dedicated effort from the medical center to make our operations more sustainable over a period of years,” said Tim Mahaney, executive director of Facilities and Support Services for the medical center.  “We are working to continuously improve sustainability practices through our ongoing and capital programs for our current and future facilities.” 

Carl Solomon, director of Hospitality Services and co-chair of the recycling work group of the CACS, added, “A key challenge is to keep sustainability in our forefront and to look beyond the traditional things most people are doing. If we look at what we purchase, cradle to grave, there are opportunities.”


Some highlights of the UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Children’s Hospital sustainability program include:

Replacing Disposables with Reusable Materials

  • Hospitality Services and Materials Management at the medical center will save more than $500,000 this fiscal year by switching from certain disposable products to those that are sanitized or sterilized and reused, making them more environmentally friendly.
  • UCSF has contracted with Stericye, a medical waste and sharps disposal company, to collect, disinfect and reuse plastic containers for “sharps”—hypodermic needles and other sharp tools such as scalpels—as well as certain containers for medications. This change will divert more than 100,000 pounds of plastic waste from landfills and save about $250,000 a year. “In the past, when the containers were full, the whole thing was thrown out. Now, each container is used hundreds of times,” explained Gail Lee, UCSF sustainability manager.
  • In addition, the medical center is switching from disposable patient pillows to vinyl-covered reusable ones that are cleaned and disinfected after each patient is discharged from the hospital. Each pillow is expected to last about six months rather than be thrown out after each patient’s hospital stay. In the past, the medical center purchased about 160,000 disposable pillows a year, resulting in 296,000 pounds of waste. The change to reusable pillows is expected to save the medical center an additional $250,000 a year.

Recycling and Composting Programs

  • Overall, 17 percent of all medical center waste is recycled, composted or reused. The medical center’s NFS started a food composting and recycling program in its Moffitt Cafe in 2008, reducing solid waste at the cafe by 84 percent. The success of the cafe program gave the medical center the impetus to expand the program to Patient Food Services, which reduced landfill food waste by 87 percent. “We are currently recycling in 40 percent of our patient rooms, with plans to expand the program soon. We are also composting in the OR break rooms,” said Solomon. 

Engaging Nurses and Other Clinicians

  • UCSF Medical Center also has a Green Group, a grassroots effort run by nurses and other clinicians working to educate staff on sustainability. The members act as green champions for the medical center’s programs.

Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability

  • The medical center has taken an active role in implementing measures to promote a healthy environment and actively participates on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS). Formed in April 2008, the CACS consists of 11 work groups, each co-chaired by one representative from the medical center and one from the campus, covering a range of sustainability issues, including: climate change, education and communication, green building, health care, nutrition and food services, clean energy, recycling, sustainable operations, procurement and transportation.

Photo by Deborah Fleischer

Related Links:


UC Continues Progress in Sustainability Practices
UCSF Today, January 22, 2008

UCSF Hires Sustainability Manager
UCSF Today, January 26, 2010

Sustainable Medical Centers at UC
Practice Greenhealth

Sustainability and Green Design – UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay